Pongporn warns media over monks

Pongporn warns media over monks

5 top clerics still only suspects, director says

National Office of Buddhism director Pongporn Phramsane performs a wai before Phra Phrom Dilok, abbot of Wat Sam Phraya, after a Sangha Council meeting yesterday. The abbot is one of five senior monks implicated in a temple fund embezzlement scandal. (Photo by Pawat Laopaisarntaksin)
National Office of Buddhism director Pongporn Phramsane performs a wai before Phra Phrom Dilok, abbot of Wat Sam Phraya, after a Sangha Council meeting yesterday. The abbot is one of five senior monks implicated in a temple fund embezzlement scandal. (Photo by Pawat Laopaisarntaksin)

National Office of Buddhism (NOB) director, Pol Lt Col Pongporn Phramsane, on Friday insisted that all five senior monks allegedly implicated in the third and latest round of temple fund embezzlement probes are still presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of law.

Speaking on behalf of the Sangha Council's secretary at a press conference, Pol Lt Col Pongporn said he was assigned by the council to make it clear to the media that all five senior monks accused of being involved in the temple fund embezzlement scandal are only suspects and they must be presumed innocent for now.

Pol Lt Col Pongporn said the investigation process under the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) has not started yet, therefore the council did not want the media to speculate or exaggerated in reporting the matter.

The office chief also insisted that his complaint against three members of the Sangha Council and two other senior monks is free from bias and based on evidence.

"The media should talk to the NACC or the police's Counter Corruption Division [CCD] for updated information, not the Sangha Council," he said.

Three Sangha Council members accused of involvement in the temple fund embezzlement scandal all reportedly attended a Sangha Council meeting yesterday. All stayed tight-lipped about the accusations.

Recently, Pol Lt Col Pongporn lodged a complaint with the police's anti-graft division against three members of the council and two other senior monks over the alleged embezzlement of funds for the renovation of religious schools at three temples in Bangkok.

The five senior monks comprise three Sangha Council members: Phra Phrom Dilok, abbot of Wat Sam Phraya, Phra Prom Methee, abbot of Wat Samphanthawongsaram and chief monk of 4th-7th regions, Phra Phrom Sitthi, the abbot of Wat Saket and chief monk of the 10th region, as well as Phra Methee Sutthikorn and Phra Wichit Thammaporn, both assistants to the Wat Saket abbot.

The case was later forwarded to the NACC.

According to the Counter Corruption Division, the third and latest round of alleged temple fund embezzlement probes involves 10 temples in Bangkok accused of pocketing at least 70 million baht of state funds intended for the teaching of Buddhism.

Three of the temples are already under investigation, however, the office has not yet wrapped up probes into seven other temples subject to similar accusations.

Pol Lt Col Pongporn was due to meet the Counter Corruption Division to lodge another complaint against the seven other temples on Thursday, but has sought an indefinite postponement.

In the first and second rounds of the investigation, authorities found that Buddhism office officials granted state funds to temples to carry out maintenance jobs. However, the recipient temples allegedly wired most of the money back to the officials' private bank accounts.

In the third round of embezzlement cases, the same method was adopted.

Meanwhile, Korn Meedee, secretary of Thailand's Buddhist Federation, criticised the office and Pol Lt Col Pongporn for rushing the cases to the NACC and the police's CCD because the Sangha Council can set up a committee to investigate any allegations made.

"I think the National Office of Buddhism is disrespecting senior monks. Our group members are discussing whether to protest against the office and Pol Lt Col Pongporn," Mr Korn said.

National police chief Chakthip Chaijinda on Friday vowed to take legal action against any monk found to be involved in the scandal, no matter what rank they hold.

Commenting on a rumour that monks planned to stage a protest, he said there was no law prohibiting authorities from detaining monks.

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